Hey man. OK, let me start by saying that I am glad that you shot me an email and decided to chat through some of these things. The questions that you asked are great questions and ones that I have given some thought to in the past. I am encouraged that you seem to sincerely be searching for answers and not just trying to be combative like many people do.
Before I start to answer your questions, I have to lay some groundwork. To start, we have to understand what Christianity is. Many people think that it is a belief system, moral code, modeling Jesus, religious duties, being good to your neighbor, etc. Although some of that is is true, it is not the essence if the Christian message, but rather the fruit of a person who's heart has been transformed by the gospel (good news) of Christ.
Gospel is one of those words that Christians often use, but rarely define. Unless we establish what we’re talking about when we say, “gospel,” I'm not really doing much good by throwing it around. At best you'll have a vague idea what I'm talking about. At worst, I can potentially lead you astray from God and truth.
Beyond religion and irreligion, there is “The Gospel”. Irreligion operates on the premise: I will be my own god, and find acceptance through my own means. Religion operates on the premise: I will obey God, and find acceptance through these means. The gospel, however, operates on the premise: I constantly fail to obey God the way that I should, but because of what Jesus has done, he has accepted me anyway. Now, as a grateful response, I will seek to obey him. This is radically different than being religious or irreligious.
The gospel teaches us that because of Christ’s work on the cross and on our behalf, we are accepted by God and considered righteous. Because this depends on Jesus, and not ourselves, we are utterly secure. There is no way for us to mess it up or lose it: Jesus has done it all. Therefore religion is out. There is no place for earning anything. There is no place for moral superiority or pride.
Also, before I get to the questions, I have to address one thing that you mentioned. I never denied the existence of God (a universal energy) and the great example that Jesus has provided to us, BUT unfortunately many religious groups do not preach the real teachings of Christianity and instead they focus on the same mambo jumbo that I used to hear when I was a kid.
In this you mention that many religious groups do not preach the real teachings of Christianity. So, in that I want to ask, what you feel the real teachings of Christianity are?
Also, you mentioned the great example that Jesus provided us. If by that you mean, “Love your neighbor.” I can assure you that there have been many before Christ and after Christ who have modeled that for us. To take that a little further, if Christ was just a simple model for us, then the man was simply crazy. His mom claimed to be a virgin when she conceived him (yeah right); He said things like, eat my flesh and drink my blood, he claimed to be a part of creating the world, he literally whipped religious leaders out of the temples, he did magic/miracles and ultimately claimed to be God and was murdered for it. So, to simply say he was a good model, is a stretch. He modeled “crazy” if anything. If anyone today said the things that he said and did the things that he did we would throw him in a Loonie house. In essence, Christ's fame and his ability to literally alter all of history and humanity, was not because of his example, but because of his death, burial and resurrection. If, and I say “IF” because you have to determine if you believe this or not. If Jesus really lived without any error, was murdered for claiming to be God, and then rose from the dead 3 days later, then he isn't just our example, but he must be exactly who he claimed to be. God!! Wild, I know. But thats what I believe. I just don't believe that experientially but also intellectually. My mind has looked at the claims, weighed it against the evidence and this is the conclusion that I have come to.
OK.....That was probably a lot to take in and probably raises a lot more questions. But we needed to start somewhere.
We all born sinners: It is hard for me to believe that a new born baby, the purest creature among all is a sinner, that the baby is impure. That is a contradictory idea by nature and also by the main definition of God which for me is love.
OK. I want to start with your main definition of God. Love!! To start, I think that we may be finding some common ground with that because the only historical document that we can get that definition from is the bible. 1 John 4:8 says “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” In the ancient Greek world and even in modern day religion, there isn't a God who loved humanity on the sole bases of his character. It was always, “do X” and you will receive love. Or “don't do Y” and you will receive love. That is the one thing that makes Christianity totally different than any other religion known to man. Christians do not have to do anything, but only rely on Christ who has done it for them. This is called “grace”.
So, the next thing that we have to do is define the word sinner and get on the same page. I fear that you probably are taking your definition from your guilt ridden background. Since we are talking about Christianity and the bible is the sole means of understanding evangelicalism, how does the bible define sin? Sin is any thought, motive or deed that does not bring glory to God. So, any selfish thought, motive or deed is sin. If you and I are honest, every one of our motives are tainted by selfishness. Think about it, have you ever tried to do anything good with a single pure good motive? Give to the poor, rub your wife's back, etc...Even the best and most moral things that I do almost always puff me up and bring pride, which again is the root of all sin. Genesis says “the intentions of mans heart is evil from his youth.” You and I are dad's. I have 4 kids and I think that we can agree that our kids are born with selfish desires. They hit when they don't get what they want, even though they have never seen me or my wife hit. They scream when they don't get their way, even though they have never seen us act that way. So, I think that both our experiences and the scriptures would testify to the truth that we are born sinners.
Now, that wasn't always the case. The scriptures also tell us that God created us perfect with no flaws and it wasn't until we (Adam and Eve) choose to sin, that sin fractured everything. Thus, the sin nature is now passed to all of us through the lineage.
OK, since that is a lot to take in for now. Lets start there. Pertaining to the life of Jesus, really the only thing that we have documented is his early life and later ministry. There is a large gap of years there. I do not know why that is the case. I honestly couldn't tell you. That said, if you look at the totality of the bible it serves one purpose from beginning to end. To tell the world that God will redeem the brokenness that sin has caused. From beginning to end it is pointing us to Christ as the one who will pay for the cost of sin. So everything that was written before Christ was to point us forward to the coming of Christ, and everything written after Christ, is point us back to what Christ has done by paying for our sin on the cross. So, from beginning to end it is all about what happened at the cross. Not to say that the missing parts of Christ's life are not necessary, personally I would love to learn what happened during those years. But, in the end, he probably was a kid who ran around and had fun, was tempted like we are tempted, yet he did not fall like we fall. He was probably a little rough around the edges with his dad being a carpenter. From his adult life and how he would deal with people, I can see him as being a little sarcastic as a kid. But again, thats all speculation.
We'll have to attack the violence of the bible at another time. I have some other thing I gotta run to, but I got some thoughts on that as well. Maybe we can do that one over coffee.
Let me know how this settles and what else you're thinking of.
To: Matt Chewning
Sent: Thu, June 30, 2011 9:09:40 AM
Subject: Re: I'm curious about Netcast
First of all, thank you for getting back to me so quickly!, to be honest I had my doubts about getting a response or maybe one within a week later. I like that good "customer service" you might have adopted during your years in Corp. America.
Alright, let's start with my background and history if you let me.
I was born and raised in , as you might know most Latin American countries are Catholic due to the Spanish colonization. I believe that the Catholic influence was in the air, not only coming from my Family but also from the society in general. Unfortunately, my Catholic experience is one of memorization and repetition of prays without understanding what they meant or why you should be saying them. The other environment that was not healthy in my religious experience was the obsessive idea of guilt that was imposed. I grew up with guilt about everything making me feel that I was not good enough, that I was a bad person. It took me a lot to get out of that bad environment, thank God for the University that gave me the opportunity to have my first contact to Theology which made me see things in a different way. After the university I went into a divorce with the Catholic church (at least with the one that I experienced). I never denied the existence of God (a universal energy) and the great example that Jesus has provided to us, BUT unfortunately many religious groups do not preach the real teachings of Christianity and instead they focus on the same mambo jumbo that I used to hear when I was a kid. Due to the divorce I mentioned before I started searching to fill up the spiritual gap I have been carrying for years. I am not an expert in any religion, but by knowing the generals of each of them, I ended up understanding many things. The main Idea is that no matter how you call your God, it is the same one. The other idea I got was that no matter which religion you follow, the main goal of it is to develop into a better spiritual life, one that connects you to your God, therefore improves your life and you are able to achieve happiness. The last idea I learned is that even though all religions have good intentions, at the end of the day humans are the ones that run the show, therefore there are biases or contradictions between what they preach and what their members do.
Now let's talk about my main questions because I have several but there are a 3 that kind of bug me a lot:
1- We all born sinners: It is hard for me to believe that a new born baby, the purest creature among all is a sinner, that the baby is impure. That is a contradictory idea by nature and also by the main definition of God which for me is love. How could God would like us to believe that we are sinners since day one of our existence. This concept kind of flows with the idea of imposing guilt so other dogmas could be accepted without analysis of them. If there is an analogy or metaphor behind this idea, please explain it to me.
2- The life of Jesus: I might have not done enough research on this, but It seems that the only 2 parts known about his life were his childhood and when he was 30 y.o. to the time of his death. It is kind of hard for me to believe that his life in between was unknown or at least not mentioned as if there is something to hide about it. If you know where I could read more about Jesus entire life, please guide me.
3- Lastly but not least, why the bible is so violent?: this summer my 2 girls are going to a Christian summer camp. In the camp they gave a "bible for kids". Some moms from my kids' school told us that it is great, so we accepted the gift. We started reading it and since we (my wife and I) have not read the bible from beginning to the end, we were surprised about some stories that talk about adultery, killing and other violent acts. I don't want to raise my kids in a crystal bubble, but I don't think that a 7 or 5 y.o. kids need to be expose to those type of stories. Is there a real bible for kids? one that focuses on the good things that should be learned out of it without exposing kids to the misery that we humans created in the world. It is sad, but we live in a society that enjoys violence, I don't want that for my kids and in my own way I try to avoid anything that is violent, but I also would like my kids to learn the good stuff of the bible. As you said in your response: something that is the foundation for their beliefs.
I might not be a good example for my kids as a Christian, but at least I want to be able to answer all their questions related to Christianity and this is why I'm asking all these questions.
Matt, I don't expect you to have the answers to all my questions, but any guidance or help would be appreciated.
- John Doe